Book Reviews: Arsenal’s Early History

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The Crowd At Woolwich Arsenal FC

by Mark Andrews

Twentieth Century Historical Studies. What sort of degree course is that? The answer is a bloody good one if you are allowed to make your dissertation about The Crowd At Woolwich Arsenal and the basis for this, the latest chapter in what is a trilogy of sorts, beginning with Making The Arsenal and preceded by Woolwich Arsenal FC: 1893-1915 The Club That Changed Football. A trilogy that is set to continue.

This book covers a similar period to the previously mentioned Woolwich Arsenal book, exploring the fans who followed the club at the time, understanding their motives and actions. With so many books that focus on the players and officials, this is a welcome change, bringing to the fore a time when contemporary information requires more research than the readily available information.

The comparisons with behaviours today are not entirely different, rituals and popular meeting places and trams in Nottingham; the more things change, the more they stay the same, particularly those of who grew up amid the violence of the 1970s and subseqent decade. The circle of life, indeed as the same problems existed nearly a century previous.

What makes the narrative interesting is the timescale, the first two decades of the club; the Football League and professionalism are the backdrop. With Arsenal so well established in the top flight, the different environment of being the only or leading Southern club in a time when the Northern English clubs dominated the game. Add in the beginnings of the travel industry and there is a sense of adventure in the numbers who travelled, drawing on the core support from the munitions factories.

Interesting angles emerge, for example the representation of the class system in the organising of football awayday excursions through a savings club. A flaw only emerging in the planned day out to Bury when the match was called off. The train times are an interesting contrast with today. The Football Association cannot organise an important match without mishandling the kick-off time and venue for semi-finals, supporters from Northern towns struggling to get home. No such problems for the early conquistadors, who no doubt found the late hour for return to London as agreeable as the publican his profits.

A welcome addition to the histories of the club, The Crowd At Woolwich Arsenal be purchased here and here.
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Woolwich Arsenal FC: 1893 – 1915 The Club That Changed Football

By Tony Attwood, Andy Kelly and Mark Andrews

Published by Hamilton House

What happens when you spend too much time in libraries and other such institutions? You end up with a tremendous collection of photographs and newspaper cuttings; what to do with it? Writing a book about Arsenal seems to be as good as use of these items as you are likely to come up with.

This book spans two decades, beginning with the club’s inaugural season in the Football League, through to the commencement of the First World War. It is a football soap opera in which heroes, villains, drama queens and innocents all feature. Thoroughly researched, the analysis of the early years of the club’s existence captures a crucial period as they entered the League, promotion, the only relegation suffered, financial disaster and the emergence onto the Arsenal landscape of Highbury and Sir Henry Norris.

The seasons are covered off as discrete chapters, reviewing each campaign with a solid backing of statistics. Nothing is left to chance in this respect, the all too often ignored FA Cup qualifiers – well before automatic entry into the third round draw – are covered with as much relish as the two semi-finals reached during this period, each individual cup-tie afforded its own coverage.

To the credit of the authors, they avoid making this book a dry, academic football history, bringing to life the key players on and off the pitch, through a compelling narrative. OK, we’re biased, this a book about Arsenal and any story is compelling in that sense. As well as the machinations in the boardroom, 50 of the crucial characters who shaped the club during this period are afforded special mention in their own section; not simple stats that leaves the person as the historical equivalent of a Top Trumps card but a little insight to the people.

For those who think the politics of football in the modern day are as low as they have ever stooped, think again. From the murky dealings that saw Royal Arsenal morph into Woolwich Arsenal, from the Invicta to the Manor to Highbury; the professional era welcomed into the club with the problems that brought about. Above all, this is the story of the strength of belief and personalities who put incalculable effort into keeping the club alive when the darkest hours, the dividends of which were reaped decades later.

Whilst there are those who are inexplicably uninterested in the club or its history in the pre-Premier League (or Wenger) era, this is a compelling documentary of the past. Click on the link to purchase Woolwich Arsenal FC: 1893-1915 The club that changed football

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Making The Arsenal by Tony Attwood
Published by Hamilton House

Writing a football novel is a risky business; few are readable, littered with cliches. Even fewer are believable. A risky business then taking on the formative years of Arsenal Football Club. Thankfully this one is that rarest of books, a football novel that is well-written and thought provoking, something which you might expect from the author of Untold Arsenal.

One of the reasons that the book works well is the unusual angle chosen. Whilst based in fact, the story is contextualised with the main political events of the time brought into play. Covering the twelve months from January 1910 to January 1911, the protagonist is Jacko Jones, a journalist. Our hero is on the trail of Sir Henry Norris’ motivations for eventual takeover of The Arsenal, the twists and turns of the move, opposition and nefarious deeds captured.

The chapters are on a monthly basis, the story broken down further, almost diarised on a daily basis. The language keeps in with the times without becoming stylised. Try as I might I could not find a “Cor blimey Guv! You’re a toff and make no mistake“. Perhaps that is the greatest success of the author; the book captures a sense of the time in which it is based.

The research is thorough. A work of fiction based on fact is a matter of interpretation. On this basis, the story is a success, avoiding the pitfalls of making illogical leaps of assumption or leaving the reader wondering how a theory was reached without having gaping chasms in the deductions applied.

As for the story, we know the ending in Arsenal terms but for the actual book, I wholeheartedly commend you to purchase a copy, which you can do by clicking here